Tractor of a Lifetime: 1956 Ferguson TE20 – Little Grey Fergie

Growing up and living out in the countryside almost my whole life, there has always been a tractor in my life.  I grew up with this little Grey Fergie, and this is its story.

From before the time I was born, my father always had a tractor of some sort.  We live on a hundred-or-so plot of land, mostly wooded, in the countryside.  He bought this old farmstead in 1973, and in 1975, my maternal grandparents built a place on the land next to my parents they had given them.  When my grandfather passed away, he willed me the house, and I live there now with my family.  With wood to cut, a garden to put in, and snow to plow, he had a pressing need for a tractor.  The first one he’d gotten was a little International Cub.  He said it was a good little tractor, but too small for his needs.  When I was very, very young, he got rid of the Cub, and bought this Ferguson.

There were a few different variations of the little Fergie built.  Some of them had diesel engines, some were built in the States and used Continental gas engines.  This one was a British-built one, with the Standard gas engine.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The engine as I remember it was not tractorlike at all.  It idled smoothly and quietly.  If there was enough juice in the battery to crank over, it’d run.  If it wouldn’t, it had a handcrank.  It never took much cranking if it came to that.  Towards the end of our time owning the tractor, it developed a miss on number 3 cylinder.  A new plug would solve it for a short time, but we just left it be.  The oil filler cap was interesting – it had the recommended oils printed on it like Castrol, Shell and Esso.  It was also spring loaded to keep it from going missing.

I learned how to drive on the tractor when I was 10 – I could haul loads of wood home from the woods, and help plow the driveway.  It had a four-speed transmission, with a special safety feature.  In what would be 5th gear if it were a 5-speed, was the “S” position.  This ensured the operator couldn’t start the tractor in gear.  You could jam it up there and it’d wind over.  It had a few other things I remember – heel pedals to lock up each side’s brake, and an easy-to-use park brake you could set by pushing down on the main brake pedal and shoving the parking pawl into a ratchet.

Around 1990 or so.  Our necks are still sore from plowing backwards.

The tractor was ideal in the woods for skidding out logs.  It was small and nimble, and tough as nails.  I was later told that Ferguson used high-quality steel in their parts, and it was born out by the lack of trouble we had.  We had to put a clutch disc in it, and it would get water in the transmission if it were left out.  The water would freeze and the hydraulic pump wouldn’t work.  We’d thaw it out, drain it a bit, and keep going.  There were no visible areas where water would get in, but it always seemed to collect it anyway.

The tractor saw the most use in the winter.  Dad had gotten a back blade for it, and we plowed our long driveway with it for years.  The tires were loaded with calcium, but we never used chains.  I stuck it a few times, though.  It was good to have a good chain nearby to drag it out with a truck when it did get really buried.

Near the end of the tractor’s time with us.  Its replacement is in the background.

Dad was getting tired of plowing backwards with the little Fergie.  It’d performed admirably in the over-20 years he owned it and I was sad to see it go.  He had a chance to buy a more modern tractor – a ’74 Ford 2000 with a loader.  That was an entirely different kettle of fish.  More on it next week!